Roving Reporter, Ernie Pyle

‘Are you all right?’ Ernie asked of major just as bullet hit him

Pyle lived 2 or 3 minutes, officer said, but he was unconscious all the while
By Bryce Watson, USCG combat correspondent

This story just arrived. It tells of Ernie Pyle’s last words, and details of the ambush of which he was the victim. His last column is printed today, on this page.

ON THE IE SHIMA BEACHHEAD (delayed) – I watched a battered jeep return with the body of Ernie Pyle, bringing him 500 yards from the forward area.

The Ie Shima terrain is smooth here, looking like the Indiana farmland where he was born – except it is broken by lines of advancing tanks and tractors.

Maj. George H. Pratt, who was beside Ernie on that tragic instant, was sitting wearily in front of an abandoned Jap cave.

“Ernie Pyle,” Maj. Pratt said softly, “was worth two divisions as a morale factor alone.”

Ernie’s body had just been recovered from beneath the machine gun and sniper fire up ahead by John J. Barnes of Petersburg, Virginia. He was the driver of the jeep when it happened, and had remained with Ernie, pinned down by fire.

5 start out in jeep

The body was resting near Maj. Pratt. Ernie’s battledress was unpressed, his dusty shoes shielded from the sun by a poncho.

“He was one of the enlisted men really,” Maj. Pratt said.

When the jeep had started out, hours before, there had been four men in it besides Ernie – Dale Bassett from Denver, Colorado; Lt. Col. L. B. Coolidge of Helena, Arkansas; Barnes, the driver, and Maj. Pratt, who is from Eugene, Oregon. They were driving to the front lines.

Suddenly, a Jap machine gun opened up.

The swath of fire swung to the right and swept under the jeep which pitched to a halt.

Dive into ditches

All five men went into the ditches. Barnes dived to the left, the others to the right.

The machine gun swept back and forth across their positions.

“I looked to my left,” said Maj. Pratt. “Ernie looked at me and smiled. He raised up slightly and said: ‘Are you all right?’”

There had been a slight break in the firing. Just as Ernie Pyle asked his question, a burst got him.

Lives several minutes

“He went backward slowly,” Maj. Pratt said. “It was a head wound. Thank God he never knew what happened. It was two or three minutes before he was dead, maybe, but he was unconscious all the time.”

The machine gun was joined by sniper fire. All four men on the right side of the road managed to crawl away.

But Barnes had to remain until a special detail of infantrymen cleaned out the area, about four and a half hours later.

Then Barnes drove his flat-tired jeep back with Ernie’s body.

Voice breaks

As I talked to Maj. Pratt, his voice broke several times.

“He was so damned modest and human,” he said.

I walked toward the beach, to the temporary burial ground. Men were standing about, saying nothing.

There were other dead there. In death, Ernie Pyle was lying among the common, trudging foot soldiers – the brave men – he had glorified in life.

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That Girl: Your memory of Ernie his reward

Saturday, April 28, 1945

The following statement to Ernie Pyle’s readers is published at the request of Mrs. Pyle:

To all of you who have tried to find words to express the grief in your hearts for the deeply personal loss you feel because Ernie has gone from us, I want to say I am one of you. Our loss is a common loss. Your letters and messages made me feel you had come to me for comfort – the comfort that Ernie had given you each day.

That he will live in your hearts forever will be his reward – his monument.


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Seventy-nine years later, it still rings true… :saluting_face:

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To the TimeGhost Army: Share your favorite Ernie Pyle stories here.

Ernie’s writing style was very effective by speaking directly to regular people. He focused on the positive elements he observed and did not use his voice to denigrate anyone. He saw firsthand how important everyone’s role was to the war effort. If he did not write about a specific person then one can conclude he did not have anything positive to say about them. His voice was a rarity in his day and we would all be better served if he were here today writing stories.

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It’s difficult to choose my personal favorite of his stories: His dispatches from North Africa, his series of articles on the WACs, his dispatches from Italy and France, and even his rather hilarious time in Central Africa.

The Pittsburgh Press (April 29, 1945)

President’s tribute to Pyle to be foreword to film

Clark Gable’s gift to socialite an item – other odds and ends
By Erskine Johnson
Saturday, April 28, 1945

HOLLYWOOD, California – EXCLUSIVELY YOURS: President Truman’s tribute to Ernie Pyle will be used as the foreword to The Story of G.I. Joe. Ernie’s movie, glorifying the foot soldiers, will have a South Pacific premiere… Socialite Dolly O’Brien is displaying a jeweled cigarette case to friends in New York. It’s a gift from Clark Gable… Frances Langford’s backless evening dresses prompted Bob Hope to quip: “She’s the biggest ham in Hollywood. She gets applause both coming and going.” … Myrna Loy has dieted away so much weight they’re thinking of changing the title of the series to The Thin Woman… Kathleen (Forever Amber) Winsor has purchased a Westwood home – with four bedrooms.

Sight of the week: Veronica Lake in a white turtleneck sweater for her role in The Blue Dahlia. Veronica, incidentally, will take a full year’s retirement from the screen to have her baby.

Frank Sinatra has promised pals, we are told, that he will take a punch at me the next time we meet. Apparently, we are feuding, dating back to the time he thought we said, over the radio, that he ought to be in the Army. Another radio commentator said this and we offered to submit our scripts as proof. Instead, Frankie goes on ignoring the truth.

If it is on the level that he will take a punch at me, there are certain stipulations. The fight must be staged for the benefit of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s foundation to prevent juvenile delinquency and I’ll spot him the first chorus of “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night.” If such can be arranged, I promise to stay in there and keep punching, let the bobbysocks fall where they may.

The Pittsburgh Press (April 30, 1945)

Ernie Pyle Memorial Fund set up at Indiana University

Journalism scholarships will honor writer – plan he approved expanded

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (SHS) – Friends of Ernie Pyle planned today a living memorial to him on the campus of Indiana University, where he spent his college days.

Indiana University Foundation, Bloomington, Indiana, announced establishment of the Ernie Pyle Memorial Fund, to provide scholarships for journalism students – especially returning veterans of this war – lectures by the nation’s outstanding newspaper men, and a memorial room, or library wing in which will be maintained a permanent display of his manuscripts, photographs, letters and personal belongings.

Approved by Ernie

The project was launched before his death in action, and had been given his personal approval the last time he was on the university campus – when he was given an honorary degree last November.

Originally it was planned as a rather modest affair, to provide an Ernie Pyle Scholarship to promising students who wanted to learn to write – a subject close to his own heart.

Since his death, it has been expanded. Unsolicited gifts already have been arriving, Lawrence Wheeler, director of the Foundation at Bloomington, said today.

Servicemen contribute

Contributions have arrived from many men in service. In one or more army camps movements were reported underway to establish memorials, and sponsors of some of these have been in contact with the foundation.

Alumni of the university also have displayed a keen interest in the project, and were prepared to give it civilian support on a nationwide basis. More than 500 students have passed through the university’s School of Journalism.

The fund will be administered by the Board of Directors of the Indiana University Foundation.

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Wasn’t it a stray bullet that killed him? Who should we blame for that? Physics?

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 1, 1945)

New Superfortress will honor Pyle

NEW YORK (SHS) – William Pyle, father of the late Ernie Pyle, will christen a new Boeing Superfortress at Wichita, Kansas, this afternoon, naming it the Ernie Pyle. In the ceremony he will swing a bottle of water from the old family well in Indiana.

The bomber was purchased through sale among Boeing employees of $600,000 in Seventh War Loan bonds. It is being dedicated to Ernie’s memory at the request of the employees.

Mr. Pyle was accompanied by his Dana, Indiana, pastor, Rev. H. L. McBride.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 3, 1945)

Pyle memorial May 15

LOS ANGELES, California – Mayor Fletcher Bowron today set aside May 15 as Ernie Pyle Memorial Day, when Los Angeles citizens will honor the late war correspondent, killed last month by a Jap machine-gun bullet.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 4, 1945)

Group seeks blood donors in honor of Ernie

Friday, May 4, 1945

In honor of Ernie Pyle, who was killed in action on Ie Shima, off the coast of Okinawa, the B’nai B’rith Council of Pittsburgh is seeking 400 blood donors.

The 15th blood donor day is scheduled Wednesday, May 23, at the Red Cross Station, Wabash Building. I. H. Kantrowitz is general chairman of the drives aided by Myer M. Cohen.

Members of the Bakery Drivers Union, Local 485 (AFL), are conducting a drive to enroll donors in honor of 438 members of the union serving in the Armed Forces and in memory of seven members who have been killed. The donors are to meet at the Red Cross Center Tuesday, May 22. On the committee are F. H. Hofbauer, Fred Martin and William H. Tappe.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 9, 1945)

Editorial: Ernie Pyle and V-E Day

Ernie Pyle had some ideas about V-E Day.

His ideas, we think, are pretty much the ideas of most G.I.’s.

He wrote them long before V-E Day, which he never lived to see. He wrote them from his heart and out of the long months in which he trudged the bitter, tragic paths of war – war, which he once described as “a flat, black depression without highlights, a revulsion of the mind and an exhaustion of the spirit.”

As we mark the end of fighting in Europe and turn to the tedious, painful months of death and anguish still to come in the Pacific war, listen to Ernie’s words on V-E Day:

The end of the war will be a gigantic relief, but it cannot be a matter of hilarity for most of us. Somehow it would seem sacrilegious to sing and dance when the great day comes – there are so many who can never sing and dance again.

We have won this war because our men are brave, and because of many other things – because of Russia, and England, and the passage of time, and the gift of nature’s materials.

We did not win it because destiny created us greater than all other peoples. I hope that in victory we are more grateful than we are proud. I hope we can rejoice in victory – but humbly. The dead men would not want us to gloat.

And all of us together will have to learn how to reassemble our broken world into a pattern so firm and so fair that another great war cannot soon be possible.

These are the words of a gifted writer, a writer who knew not only the filth and dirt and numbing horror of war, but knew the innermost confidences and thoughts and hopes and fears and ideas of the men who fight wars, and die in them.

For the great numbers of us at home, who have been so jubilant over the news from Europe, those of us who have fought the war in petty inconveniences and shortages, in small and paltry sacrifices, these are good words for us to know.

Let’s keep them in our minds until V-J Day, and in our hearts forever.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 13, 1945)

Ernie Pyle V Norman

What end of war means to G.I.’s who fought it

By Ernie Pyle

This excerpt is from the final chapter in Ernie Pyle’s book, Brave Men. It tells how the late war correspondent felt about the victory he saw coming in Europe, about the unfinished war in the Pacific, and about peace.

It will seem odd when, at some given hour, the shooting stops and everything suddenly changes again. It will be odd to drive down an unknown road without that little knot of fear in your stomach; odd not to listen with animal-like alertness for the meaning of every distant sound; odd to have your spirit released from the perpetual weight that is compounded of fear and death and dirt and noise and anguish.

The end of the war will be a gigantic relief, but it cannot be a matter of hilarity for most of us. Somehow it would seem sacrilegious to sing and dance when the great day comes – there are so many who can never sing and dance again.

For some of us, the war has already gone on too long. Our feelings have been wrung and drained; they cringe from the effort of coming alive again. Even the approach of the end seems to have brought little inner elation. It has brought only a tired sense of relief.

I do not pretend that my own feeling is the spirit of our armies. If it were, we probably would not have had the power to win. Most men are stronger.

Why we won

We have won because of many things. We have won partly because the enemy was weakened from our other battles. The victory here is the result of Russia, and the Western Desert, and the bombings, and the blocking of the sea. It is the result of Tunisia and Sicily and Italy; we must never forget or belittle those campaigns.

We have won because we have had magnificent top leadership, at home and in our allies and with ourselves overseas.

We won because we were audacious. One could not help but be moved by the colossus of our invasion. It was a bold and mighty thing, one of the epics of all history.

We have won this war because our men are brave, and because of many other things – because of Russia, and England, and the passage of time, and the gift of nature’s materials.

We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other peoples. I hope that in victory we are more grateful than we are proud. I hope we can rejoice in victory – but humbly. The dead men would not want us to gloat.

Half-peace, half-war

The end of one war is a great fetter broken from around our lives. But there is still another to be broken. The Pacific war may yet be long and bloody. Nobody can foresee, but it would be disastrous to approach it with easy hopes. Our next few months at home will be torn between the new spiritual freedom of half-peace and the old grinding blur of half-war. It will be a confusing period for us.

Thousands of our men will soon be returning to you. They have been gone a long time, and they have seen and done and felt things you cannot know. They will be changed. They will have to learn how to adjust themselves to peace.

And all of us together will have to learn how to reassemble our broken world into a pattern so firm and so fair that another great war cannot be possible.

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The Pittsburgh Press (May 14, 1945)

Pyle’s adopted city honors his memory

Memorial service held in Albuquerque

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (UP) – Residents of Ernie Pyle’s adopted city paid final tribute to the famed war correspondent yesterday with a memorial service in Carlisle Gymnasium on the University of New Mexico campus.

More than 3,500 persons, including Mr. Pyle’s widow, attended the service. They heard a military chorus from nearby Kirtland Field sing a group of Ernie’s favorite songs.

Sgt. William Teets of Kirtland Field, who had met Mr. Pyle overseas, spoke briefly for G.I. Joe.

He said:

No man has been able to express our feelings to you as Ernie did. His columns were our letters home. He could tell our parents, our wives and children, the nation’s lawmakers and factory workers, what we felt because he was there experiencing it too.

At the conclusion of the service, three B-29s flew low down the city and dipped their wings in a final salute to the beloved reporter who was killed on Ie Shima last month.

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